Saying Goodbye to my PST Host Family

In Peace Corps, all volunteers go through a three-month, in-country pre-service training (known as “PST”). During this time, each volunteer lives with a temporary host family. I went to visit my PST host family this past Friday to say goodbye.

I’ve done a bad job of keeping in touch with them. They live on the other side of the country from where I am now. Kosovo is a small country and the distance wouldn’t matter so much if I had access to a car, but I don’t, and so it takes me 4 hours and 3 buses to get to my former home.

It was nice to sleep in my old room one last time and to see my host parents. Unfortunately, my host brothers weren’t there. They are all working in Pristina (Kosovo’s capital city).

balcony
View from the balcony

My host mother and I went on a little hike shortly after I arrived. I miss my old village because it is so much more beautiful than where I live now. My host mom told me she takes a walk up the hill every day because she loves nature.

host mom
Host mom and me
hill 3
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hill 7
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hill 2
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hill 4

I learned something sad during my trip. Remember the kitten, who I met on my birthday two years ago?

cheap-trick-t-shirt-tiger-kitten

I saw her last March and she had grown into a beautiful cat.

kitten-then-and-now

Unfortunately, she died. I texted my host brother about it and he said both cats got sick and only one survived. He doesn’t know what happened. 😦

The gray-and-white cat (who I think of as “Mace,” which is the Albanian word for “cat”) is thankfully still alive and well. She is a sweet cat. Still, I had a real soft spot for the tabby. Rest in peace, little one.

tabby-cat-blue-rug-grass
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naughty kitty
Mace being bad and trying to get on the table during my last visit …

There have been times when my Peace Corps service has felt like it dragged on, but while I was visiting my old house, I could not believe two years have passed since I lived there.

Read more about my experiences (and my friend’s experiences) during pre-service training (PST):

I am considering starting a monthly (?) newsletter once I complete my service to keep everyone updated on my first few months post-Peace Corps service. Due to anti-spam laws, I actually need you to opt in if you are interested. Please click here to sign up.

I Visited a Mosque

One thing I wanted to do while living in Kosovo was to visit a mosque. Though Kosovo is a predominately Islamic country, I live in a Catholic village and we don’t have a mosque, so I hadn’t been to one. I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know the rules for someone who 1) is a woman and 2) isn’t Muslim. I asked a local and he suggested covering my head as a sign of respect and taking care not to visit during the daily call to prayer times. Otherwise, he said visiting should be fine.

I’d seen this mosque in Pristina (pictures below) from the outside and decided that it was the one I’d visit. I covered my head with my scarf and took off my shoes (though I think that has more to do with culture and less to do with religion) before I went inside.

mosque 1.JPG
Outside view
mosque ceiling
Entrance ceiling
mosque light
Chandelier
mosque 2
My friend said only old mosques have corners like these and that they are probably used for prayer because the walls are thick.

It was dark inside the mosque and when I got home, I discovered most of my pictures were too dark or blurry to post. 😦

Here is a previous picture I had posted of the outside of a mosque and it is one of my favorite photos I’ve taken in Kosovo.

Q & A About Serving in the Peace Corps in Kosovo

Hello! A potential new volunteer recently emailed me some questions about serving in Peace Corps Kosovo, so I thought I would use them to create a blog post. At the end, I also included a question that a friend recently asked me.

1) How safe do you feel in Kosovo? Fairly safe. Have you ever felt threatened or in danger? The two worst things that have happened to me are: 1) A student threw a rock at me as I was crossing the school yard, and it hit me on the back of my shoulder. Three students were suspended for a week as a result, and I no longer teach their classes. 2) I was taking a walk one morning, rounded a bend in the road, and came upon a large, angry stray dog. It approached me several times and barked at me, but it eventually moved on. I would say I find environmental concerns (stray dogs, lack of seat belts in cars, lack of adequate nutrition and exercise, and exposure to second-hand smoke and air pollution) more worrisome than my experiences with people here. I mostly feel safe around Kosovar people. Do you think a self defense class would be a good idea? I think taking a self defense class is always a good idea, and is something every woman should do.

2) How hot and cold does it really get there? I am from the Midwest, and weather in Kosovo is like the weather in the Midwest. It gets very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. A major factor here is that central heat and central air conditioning are rare to nonexistent. Do I need to bring a long down jacket for winter? Yes, absolutely! Are the summers too hot for jeans and a T-shirt? I don’t wear jeans in the summer because it is too hot. I recommend wearing long skirts, linen pants, capri pants, etc. Some people wear shorts, but I would recommend dressing more conservatively here than you might in the United States.

3) Have you gotten placed next to any other Peace Corps volunteers? My first year here, I had two site mates. They didn’t live in my village but they were only a ten-minute drive away. They are both gone now. This year, I am alone at my site. The next-closest volunteer is probably an hour away from me by bus. However, I see other volunteers all the time in Pristina. Kosovo is small so I wanted to know if it is pretty standard to work at a school with other Peace Corps volunteers. Volunteers are never placed at the same school, even if they live in the same village.

4) Do you have daily access to fruits or vegetables? Mostly (kinda?) yes. My host family eats peppers almost daily. Sometimes, we also have cabbage or pickled vegetables. There is not much variety, however, in vegetables or in meals in general. If you are curious to know what I eat, you can read my 5-Day Food DiaryHow much of a say do you have in your diet? Almost none. If I say that I would prefer to eat less of something (like sugar or bread), will the family take extreme offense to that? No, not at all, at least in my experience. I think it is important to be honest with your host family about what you will or will not eat. For example, I hate onion and my host family knows this. If my host mother makes something with onion in it, she will make me a smaller, separate portion with no onion.  Can I just buy my own food and cook my own meals? You will negotiate the meal situation with your host family and yes, some volunteers do cook their own meals.

5) How often is it considered appropriate to shower in Kosovo before it becomes rude (as in your host family gets irritated with you for using up amenities)? I shower and wash my hair every day. As far as toiletries go, I buy my own soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Having good hygiene has always been important to me — it’s just a part of who I am. I compromise on plenty of stuff as a volunteer, but I am not willing to compromise on maintaining good hygiene.

I think volunteers (especially in the beginning of service) are really nervous about being seen as “weird” or doing something offensive, but remember, you will be a foreigner in Kosovo. You are bound to do things that are “weird” because you come from a different country with a different culture. You are not going to perfectly blend in. As long as you aren’t being deliberately disrespectful or offensive, do what makes you happy. Is [showering] every other day excessive? I don’t think so.

6) What has been the hardest cultural aspect for you to adjust to in Kosovo? All of it has been a huge adjustment. As far as the hardest thing, I would say that because Kosovo is a patriarchal society, experiencing the way women are thought of and treated has really been hard. I also hate all the smoking!

7) My friend Dana (hi, Dana!) recently asked me how many Americans are on staff here in Kosovo. All Peace Corps posts (meaning, host countries) have to have three Americans on staff: the Country Director, the Director of Programming and Training, and the Director of Management and Operations. All other staff members (administrative assistants, medical staff, IT director, accounts payable/receivable, program managers, small grants manager, supply chain manager, and drivers) are from Kosovo.

As always, I hope my answers are helpful! Thank you for reading.

That Time I Wandered into a Horror Scene

It was about 6 p.m., full dark, no stars. I had been sweeping my bedroom and I wanted to empty the debris into the outside garbage can. I paused on the front door step. The expanse of my host family’s yard was pitch-black, but beyond that, past the fence, our neighbors stood in a circle of warm light. Then I heard the horrible squealing of a pig. The light illuminated an arm moving down and then back up, down and then back up, down and then back up. The squealing stopped, and the only sound that remained was my neighbors’ murmurings. I stood with the broom in one hand and dustpan in the other, wishing I had not seen what I just had.

Monthly Photo Project: A Year in Kosovo

This last year, I did a monthly photo project where each month, I posted a photo that captured the spirit of that month. While I didn’t love this project (I’ve seen it done better on other blogs), 2017 is the only full calendar year I will be living in Kosovo. Here is the year in photos. (Note: I hadn’t previously published December’s photo. It is here at the end.)

january-kosovo
January
february-landscape-pristina-kosovo
February
Mosque in Peja Kosovo
March
Kosovo Mountains
April
Mirusha Kosovo
May
yard kosovo
June
July landscape
July
Peja Kosovo
August
chickens in kosovo
September
October landscape
October
Landscape photo November
November
December in Kosovo.JPG
December